Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity. ~Voltaire
I enjoy reading a good manga now and then. Though my tastes run strongly toward shonen or action manga, sometimes I do read shojo or more boyfriend/girlfriend relationship-oriented manga if the premise interests me.
A few months ago, I came across a manga in the latter genre, titled Oishii Kankei (in English, A Delicious Relationship).
The main character is a rich girl whose father suddenly dies of a heart attack, leaving her and her mother destitute. The rich girl tries to find a job to support herself and her mother; a job that doesn’t involve her just decoratively pouring tea for businessmen in an office. But because of her luxurious lifestyle, she and her mother do not have the necessary skills to enter the workforce.
However, she does have one skill. Because her parents always took her to gourmet restaurants when they were rich, her taste buds are extremely cultivated — to the point where she can almost taste every single ingredient in a dish. This is an extremely helpful skill; even though she does not know how to cook, she can taste dishes and tell the cook what ingredients needs to be added (or removed) to make it a truly spectacular dish.
Searching for work, she meets an owner of a small, local French restaurant who is looking for some hired help. The chef of the restaurant is a rather crusty young man with a sad past, and while working with him, she develops a crush on him.
In the beginning chapters, the manga was comedic and entertaining, and I enjoyed the story. The food descriptions (and pictures) were mouth-watering. I enjoyed the rapport she had with the other workers, especially the chef/love interest. Then the manga got all weird and the chef/love interest got a girlfriend who was actually quite an awesome lady, and my brain got confused because I didn’t want them to break up, and then the main character went through some really overblown mental anguish due to that, moved to another restaurant to work, slept with the chef of THAT restaurant while preventing him from committing suicide with a small, sharp knife, and… it got to be too much for me. I couldn’t enjoy it as much, though apparently this manga (published in 1993) was popular enough that it was made into a 20-part Taiwanese drama as well as an 11-part Japanese drama.
This was also pointed out when the main character switched restaurants. A young, arrogant female chef had just started working at the gourmet restaurant, and she cooked splendidly in spite of her overbearing attitude and scorn toward the main character. Everything was simmered or sauted or baked to perfection. Every ingredient was perfectly in place. However, upon tasting the food, the main character remarked, “This chef does not put her heart into her cooking. She has no love.”
How could she tell?
It’s an interesting idea, one I’ve never thought about it much. I love eating good food, and it’s not hard to find. And almost everyone can cook. Most people can follow a recipe and turn out something that looks good and tastes good. But can people really taste food and tell that there’s some special ingredient, call it love or passion or whatever you will, and say that the food is enhanced by that? Do chefs, like writers or pianists or artists, similarly benefit from the addition of this important element in their cooking? Are their eaters and readers and listeners and viewers able to tell when this important element is absent?
Sure, I could probably follow a recipe EXACTLY and come up with an edible meal. But in cooking as in all arts, there’s a certain Factor X, a ZING, that has nothing to do with getting the notes or the ingredients or the lines or the words right. A kind of magic. Maybe it’s just plain — love. Someone who loves to cook will produce better meals than someone who just uses the right ingredients, times etc.
I think there is truth to this. My mother loves to cook. She puts love into all her meals (and she doesn’t always need a recipe, either!). Whenever I come home from college, she’ll make my favorite food. Tilapia fillets with bread crumbs, chicken fingers with bread crumbs, chicken legs with bread crumbs (can you sense a trend here?), and potato soup.
With love, it’s not just any meal.
Food and music are closely related. A beautiful dish has rhythm, notes, harmonies that work together in the same way a good song does.
Cooking is as much of a craft as music and writing is. But it is the musician or chef or writer that uses love to bring magic into the dish or song or poem.
And I now know what an amuse bouche is.
All photos are under a CC license and used with permission. Click photos for credits.